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Beavers and Trout, with Ben Goldfarb

Description: You may wonder why I’ve done a podcast about beavers. You may be greatly surprised by the beneficial interactions between beavers and trout habitat—I know I was after talking to Ben Goldfarb author of the book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. Beavers have a much more positive effect on trout streams besides just making deep pools, and they don’t present any problems to migrating fish. And, yes, we do talk about how to fish a beaver pond, and how to find a good one. I think all fly fishers and nature enthusiasts will learn something new in this podcast.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And in this week's interview, I'm talking to Ben Goldfarb, who is the author of a book called "Eager," and it's all about beavers. You may be wondering why I'm doing a podcast on beavers in this fly fishing podcast, but beavers really have a lot to do with trout fisheries and with the trout environment. And I think you're gonna discover some very interesting things about beavers and how they relate to trout. So I know I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you do as well. Speaking of conversations, if you'd like to have a conversation with me or ask me a question, you can send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You either just type your question in the email, or you can attach a voice file if you want, and maybe I'll read it on the air.
So let's start. The first question is an email from Mike C., from Western Massachusetts. "Hello, Tom. I fish a small brook in Western Massachusetts that has a native population of wild brook trout. Each spring and fall, the state stocks large rainbow trout, 16 inches to 18 inches in this brook. I always practice catch and release, except on this brook. I keep my living of rainbow trout. My feelings are that these larger fish are having a detrimental impact on the ecosystem that is eating all the available food, hurting the native brook trout population. What are your thoughts on this issue, Tom?" Well, Mike, I think you should whack every one of those rainbows that you can catch. You know, the thing is that you've got a native fish that are reproducing in the wild, and the state is dumping in invasive fish.
And they're probably not that detrimental to the brook trout population, because food generally isn't a limiting factor. It's not the food, it's the places to live. It's the habitat. It's the sites in the river where they can be protected from predators. And, yeah, the big hatchery fish can push around the smaller brook trout, and maybe put them in places that they're a little more exposed to predators, but they won't eat all the food. That's generally not a limiting factor in a stream. But still, they don't belong there. The state shouldn't be putting them there. You can quote me on that. And, yeah, I think that you are very justified in whacking those trout over the head and taking them home for dinner.
Jim: Hey, Tom. This is Jim from Portland, Oregon. Really appreciated your conversation with Dylan about fly fisher versus fly fishermen. But I wanted to add a little context from a different perspective. You guys went back and forth about whether or not you should use fly fisherman or fly fisher relative to some of the conversations you've had with women in your life. And I appreciated that sort of thoughtfulness, but I think that the conversation got bogged down or immediately went into a binary sort of zone where it's all about men or women. And the ultimate point of using the term fly fisher is to create an umbrella of welcoming for every human that would like to fly fish. And so when we move into a binary, men, women, it excludes a huge amount of people or a possible amount of people that we would like to be welcoming into the fly fishing community.
And so, I think, and to go along with language changes that are happening all over, fly fisher should definitely be the term of choice. And you also spoke about the importance of, you know, challenging the patriarchy, and to frame this discussion in terms of a binary, men and women, doesn't really challenge that patriarchy in as ultimate and as strong a way as you can, by changing that word to just a gender-neutral term. Might be a little heavy kind of a conversation to have just about a single word, but representation matters, and how we speak matters, and I really appreciate the thoughtfulness that you guys approached it on the show the other day. And thank you.
Tom: Well, Jim, thank you very much for your thoughtful call. And I just wanna let everybody know that I'm over this subject. I think Jim had the last word on this, and I don't want to answer any more questions about fly fisher versus fly fishermen versus fly fisherwomen. I'm gonna use fly fisher. It's non-binary and generic, and I'm just gonna use fly fisher or angler, as I've been doing for years. And I will continue to correct people. But, Jim, thanks for the reminder. And, you know, as someone who has a non-binary person very close to him, I should have thought of this. So I really appreciate your comment, and thanks for having the last word.
Let's do another email. This one's from Harrison. "I would regard myself as an avid fly fisher. I try to squeeze in what I can between work and school, and have been able to find a surprising amount of time to be on the rivers here in East Idaho. I do not usually get stumped when it comes to hooking fish, and sometimes I accept the fact that I won't be catching anything that day. Yesterday, though, had me racking my brain for some sort of explanation as to why I was not hooking into any fish. I was on the Henry's Fork and the river was blown out, high, muddy, fast, all the good stuff. Visibility was probably no more than 6 inches. Right now, we're in the middle of a Mother's Day hatch, and the wind was blowing hard. I was not expecting there to be any good dry fly fishing, but once I was on the river, I saw, to my amazement, plenty of big fish rising.
They weren't just rising, though, but, for the most part, coming clear out of the water. All the fish were, it seemed, over 18 inches. I got excited, but after two and a half hours of trying everything in my caddis box, some streamers and some attractors, I do not think I got so much as a look. I even tried skating caddis and double-dry rig, which I never do. The entire time these fish were surfacing, caddis were the only bugs I could see on the surface. Another thing I noticed was that the fish were not surfacing in the same spot. One fish, which I came to recognize and came to know pretty well, was moving around the run and never seemed to take bugs in the same spot twice. Do you have any thoughts on what was going on? I've never seen or experienced this before, so I thought I would ask someone that's got a little bit more experience than I do."
Well, Harrison, I'm not sure if I have more experience than you, but I guess I can speculate. I wish I was there to see what you were observing. It sounds like it was fascinating. The one thing I can think of is that when caddis are emerging, sometimes trout that are in deep, fast water will appear to be jumping and taking something on the surface when actually what they're doing is coming up... They see a pupa coming down, they chase it to the surface, and in the process of rising up quickly through the water column to catch that emerging pupa, they clear the water because their momentum drives them through the surface of the water and then back down. You see this every once in a while. You don't see it in the quantity that you saw it, and especially not bigger fish. But fish can really be taking a subsurface object in and still clear the water when they eat it, just because of where they're sitting, you know. This won't happen in slow water, but it'll happen in fast water where they have to really come up through the water column fast. So that's the only thing I can think of. You know, the other thing that sometimes stumps people during caddis emergence, or when caddis are around, are spent caddis that have come back to lay their eggs and are laying down low in the film like a mayfly spinner. But the fish would probably not be taking those spent caddis with such a vicious rise.
So that's the only thing I can think of. You said you tried a streamer and you tried skating caddis. You didn't say if you tried a caddis pupa or some sort of nymph just under the surface. And it would've been interesting to know if you had tried that. But that's the only thing I can think of. You'll probably never see it again, but it sounds like it was a spectacle of nature and, you know, don't get excited about not catching any fish during that hatch. It's an experience you'll never forget.
Here's an email from George, "Tom, thanks for all you and Orvis do. Recent acquisition, new Orvis fiberglass, 8 foot 5 weight. Plan on using it for dry fly fishing and/or nymph in mid-size streams. Other than its reversibility, what are the advantages of a floating double taper over a weight forward line?" So, George, that's a good question that I get a fair amount, but I don't think I've answered it in a while. In a standard fly line, you know, standard tapered fly line, a weight forward and double taper are the same for the first 30 feet or 35 feet. There's no difference in that front taper. So double tapers are not more delicate. There are some specialty double tapers that are made with a finer front tip on them, but, you know, a standard double taper, standard weight forward they're gonna be the same for the first 30 feet to 35 feet of line. So there's no difference there.
Advantage of a double taper line is that it is reversible. When one end gets worn out, you can flip it around. Although that end that's been on the spool for a couple years, it's gonna take a while to get the kinks out of it, but eventually you'll be able to get the kinks out of it. Another advantage of double taper is, if you are a person who makes long, false casts, in other words, if you're false casting 35 feet to 40 feet of line frequently, a double taper with its longer belly will hold that line in the air better. And also, if you're making long roll casts, a double taper is better. Trying to make a long roll cast with a weight forward, it kind of collapses when you get to that running line at the back end.
So long false casts, long roll casts, you know, over 35 feet, you're gonna have an advantage with a double taper. The advantage of the weight forward really is that if you do need to make that power cast, you can shoot a lot more line with a weight forward because of that thinner running line, less air resistance, less weight, less mass. So that's a big advantage of weight, you know, weight forwards are great because, for your short cast, it's the same as a double taper. And then if you have to make that long cast, you don't have to do a lot of false casting. You can just shoot that additional line to get a 60-foot or 70-foot cast if you need it. So those are the main differences, but both good lines. And, you know, honestly, for most of my fishing, I wouldn't know the difference because trout fishing, I seldom get beyond 35 feet.
Bobby: Howdy, Tom. I'm a fan of your fishing podcast, and I listen to scores of your episodes. When I started fly fishing, I learned the basics from them, and I took a lot of it as gospel, and now I've developed my own opinions through experience. It's been a fun journey, and most of all, it's been comforting to tune in and get in the stream with your familiar voice and presence. I nearly always agree with your opinions and notice that you are respectful of others and therefore avoid preaching. You have said many times that you welcome criticism and controversy if it's presented fairly and reasonably. I have a few items of that nature to discuss. Orvis has recently been promoting the involvement of women in fly fishing. I'm cynical about that 50/50 campaign. It is presented as being in favor of inclusivity and gender equality, while being motivated by a generosity of spirit to bring joy to more people.
Orvis wants to sell fishing stuff. The more people that fish, the more they may sell. To grow the sport makes for good business. But if tomorrow we had as many women as men in the water, we'd be rubbing elbows. Our finite waterways are already overcrowded, and now the goal is to nearly double the population on them? From a conservation standpoint, that pressure alone could be more deleterious than any other factor. There are no laws or prohibitions in fishing regarding women or minorities. Let those who are drawn to fishing come to it on their own, and quit trying to grow the sport as though you were doing something noble. I doubt that you were talked into fishing, and none of my fishing friends needed any coaxing. The fishing industry has a right to market their business just like any other business, but it's not like selling other things. The logical progression may exceed the natural limitations and hurt in the sport. Too many people equates to ruination of the fisheries.
Also, I hate it when folks just buy their way into the sport with plenty of money on a casual interest. They purchase the gear, clothing, trips, guides, and lodge stays. A fisher in a complete Orvis outfit or waders in clothing with Orvis rod, reel, and tackle staying at an Orvis-endorsed lodge. They're flying in or renting a car and fishing with an Orvis-endorsed guide and has spent many thousands of dollars. I believe that there is more economic discrimination in fly fishing than any other kind. The best rivers are often full of rich folks.
By the way, an interview this December with Todd Tanner, you stopped the interview to correct him. You asked him to never again use the term fisherman and suggested he replaced it with fisher. Todd apologized and promised to comply, while acknowledging that it would be tough to break an old habit. Later on at 1:14:05 in the podcast, you slipped and used the term fisherman. I got a chuckle about it because an example of the challenge presented by the hollow force in trendy wokeness now running rampant in our country. I welcome to the stream all those who really love fishing, even the rich.
Tom: So, Bobby, first of all, of course, Orvis wants to sell fishing stuff. Orvis is a company that is in business to make a profit. There are thousands of families that depend on it for their livelihood, and the more profit Orvis makes, the more we can dedicate towards saving our resources, because each year 5% of our pre-tax profits go into conservation causes. So I am definitely not gonna apologize for that. And I think you and I are gonna have to agree to disagree because I believe that the more people we have on the water, the more conservationists we have. You know, it's really, more anglers are not gonna hurt the environment. We have vast resources in this country. And yes, you see crowded streams. You see crowded streams next to the parking lot, and you see crowded streams where you can easily get a drift boat on the water.
But other than that, we've got lots of room, and we've got plenty of room for more anglers. If you wanna fish close to your car and you don't like to walk, or you wanna sit in a drift boat, yeah, it could get more crowded. If you're willing to go out and pursue some warm water species, bass, carp, pike, gar, bowfin, all the other cool things that we can chase with a fly rod, no, more people aren't gonna hurt it at all. And imagine an issue like the Everglades or Pebble Mine. If we only had a few local people fishing those rivers or those resources, would we have made the same progress in protecting those resources? I don't think so. So, you know, as far as I'm concerned, the more people that we have, the more women and whoever are in this sport or pastime, whatever you wanna call it, the better our environment's gonna be.
And you know what? Women have not historically been welcome in fly fishing. And you've been fly fishing a long time, and I'm sure that you've seen this, you know, there were fishing clubs and there's still a couple of private fishing clubs that don't allow women to their meetings. You know, women haven't always been welcome. It's been the bastion of the old white male. And women, they really need to be invited into fly fishing, and they need to see other women doing it so that they feel welcome. So, yeah, a lot of us older white guys didn't need an invitation to go fly fishing, but other people have. And I also disagree that there's an economic discrimination. You can buy a complete fly fishing outfit for less money than the cell phone that you recorded this voice message on. And there are plenty of places in this country where you can fish for free without a guide, without a fancy lodge. In fact, it's the way I personally fish most of the time.
So, yeah, you know, if people wanna spend a lot of money and go to a fancy lodge and pay a guide, that's fine. It's creating more jobs for people. But most of us, a lot of us don't do it that way. And I don't see any kind of economic discrimination, especially when you can buy a lot of really high quality, lower-priced fly fishing gear these days that's gonna get someone started, and they could theoretically use their entire life. So, Bobby, I think you and I are gonna have to agree or disagree, and agree to disagree. And I hope that you'll still listen to the podcast even though I don't agree with you.
Here's an email from Andrew. "Hey, Tom, really enjoyed your last podcast with Dylan Tomine. I've been fly fishing for about 15 years and made a goal to spend over 50 days on the water in 2022. This may not seem like much to some, but would be the most time I've spent on the water in a single year since I was young and not working full time. I get out winter fishing a lot and was on pace to 50 days when I suffered a major shoulder injury to my casting arm in early April, that required surgery. Needleless to say, I was frustrated. I can cast okay with my other arm, but not nearly as well, and can't do much line management with my injured arm. Onto the part about spirituality. In the weeks leading up to surgery, I got out fishing a few times.
The injury forced me to slow down from my normal hyper-focus cover water mentality. I sat by pools longer than normal, casted fewer times, which resulted in me seeing more fish, how ironic. I listened to the water and the birds. I saw young angler approach from upstream. Because I was barely fishing and knew where the trout were, I pointed out to him where to cast and watched him hook a fish. He thanked me and went on my way back downstream. This interaction also moned me to become a mentor for the Mayfly Project." And for those of you who don't know, the Mayfly Project is an organization that puts fly fishers together with foster children to teach them the joys of fly fishing. And you could look that up, just Google the Mayfly Project. I'll go back to his comments here. "I don't think there's another sport or activity that would allow me this type of positive interaction or introspection while standing injured on the sidelines. Thank you for the podcast and everything you do for fly fishing." Well, thank you, Andrew, for your very nice note.
Here's an email from Chris, from Northern California. "I have a couple leader questions. I like to tie my own leaders and I've read your excellent book on the topic, "The Orvis Guide to Leaders, Knots and Tippets." In the book, you have leader formulas that utilize a 0.021 butt section for 9-foot leaders. I've been branching out from freshwater fly fishing to salt, and my question is when using heavier lines, say when flats fishing in Florida with an 8 weight for bonefish or a 10 or 11 weight for tarpon, should I be using thicker butt section material? And if so, do you have a general rule of thumb on how to pick the right diameter? Second, when fishing and saltwater, especially for larger fish such as tarpon, I've seen recommendations that you shouldn't rely on a loop-to-loop connection when connecting a leader to a fly line. Do you agree with this? And if so, what kind of knot do you recommend for the leader to line connection in this scenario? If you like using loops, do you use the perfection loop or another knot? Thank you for reading this and hopefully, my question isn't too much in the weeds. Thanks again, and tight lines."
Well, Chris, I love questions that are in the weeds. Those are fun. So, first of all, for saltwater fishing with, you know, bigger lines 9s, 10s, 11s, 12s, usually I personally go to a 0.023 butt section. And often, I'll add 3 feet of 0.023 to my standard 9-foot leader in saltwater because I like longer leaders, especially flats fishing. I believe in trying to keep that heavy fly line as far away from the fish as possible. But a good rule of thumb is to get a couple spools of heavy butt material and just bend them in an arc, and then bend the tip of your fly line in an arc and try to match the flexibility of your leader butt section to the flexibility of the tip section of your fly line. You know, you want that to be a continuous flow of energy, and the closer that you can match those two in stiffness, not necessarily diameter, but in stiffness because the loop is what drives your line and your leader out there, the better things are gonna be. So you can try that. But generally, .023 butt section is good for saltwater if you don't wanna bother doing that bendy stuff.
And then in saltwater, I personally use... I can only say that I use the Orvis line. So I can't vouch for any other manufacturer, but I trust the permanent loops on the end of the Orvis fly lines. We did some pole testing back when we first started putting these permanent loops on the fly lines, and actually, the fly line would break before the loop would break. The fly line breaks at about 34 pounds, most fly lines anyways. And the fly line itself, the core of the fly line, would break. In fact, I had this happen recently in Belize. I was fishing, stupidly, a 40-pound straight tippet looped to my Orvis self-loop on my, I think it was it was a 9-weight intermediate line, and we were fishing sinking lines and we got the fly stuck on a log, and we pulled the boat backwards to try to pull the fly out of the log, or hopefully the, you know, the knot would break in front of the fly, and actually the core of the fly line broke.
So I ruined a fly line. But the loop didn't break, neither did my knot where I attached the fly. So I was proud of that, but I was out of fly line. So I do trust those. There are people that don't trust them and the people that don't trust them do a couple of things. One is they'll tie a really good nail knot on the end of their fly line, or in the old days, what we used to do before we had these self-loops would be to bend the fly line over, forming a loop, and then put three small nail knots with, like, a 16 pound or 20-pound monofilament over the part where the loops overlap. And that would be a very, very secure connection for something like tarpon. But you're gonna get all kinds of answers. I trust the fly line loops. And, yes, I use a perfection loop in the butt sections of my leaders. That's a good, strong knot in the really heavy stuff. I don't think a perfection loop is particularly strong when you get down into, you know, down to 2X and 3X and smaller. I don't think it's a particularly good knot there, but it's a really good knot in heavy monofilament, and it's a nice straight knot where the loop is in line with the rest of the piece of leader material. So I'd stick with a perfection loop there. And I do loop to loop, but you know, as I said, there are other options and there are people that have other opinions on what to do.
Mike: Hi, Tom. My name is Mike. I live in La Grange Illinois. I'm new to fly fishing. I really appreciate your show. I've learned so much from listening to the podcast and I've also read a couple of your books. A kind of a stream safety question. I fish in the Northeast of Iowa, which is the Driftless country, also Southwest Wisconsin. And there's not really any trout in Illinois, and especially not in the Chicago area where I am. But anyways, I was in Northeast Iowa and I was there in the spring and was walking along the bank, and it was kind of a cut bank where the river flows underneath the bank. And I was about 10 feet or 15 feet into the shoreline along the bank because there was a big old tree that I was trying to get around that had kind of fallen in the water.
Anyways, as I was walking, my leg basically broke through the surface of the soil and grass there and plunged into what I think was part of the cutback. So I think I was, you know, my leg disappeared upto my groin and I was in a pretty bad way. And I was wondering if you'd ever heard anything like that. The stream wasn't very deep, maybe about a foot at that point, but seems to me kind of dangerous. And I just was envisioning, you know, like, my hand sticking up, holding a fly rod and someone finding me a couple months later. You ever hear of anything like that? Once again, I really appreciate everything you do for the sport.
Tom: Mike, I've certainly done that myself. I've never heard of anyone seriously hurt, but I can see where you could easily break or sprain an ankle. But you know what? Walking along the edge of a stream is probably a hell of a lot safer statistically than driving your car to the river. So it's not something I particularly worried about. One of the things you should be careful is walking too close to banks anyways. There are a number of reasons. One is that you can cause erosion on the banks. If too many people walk right along the bank and form a path there, it kills the vegetation, there's too much pressure on the bank, and the bank can eventually cave in. So that's not a good idea. And the other thing is that it spooks fish when you walk too close to the bank.
And not only might you ruin your own fishing, but you might ruin the fishing for the next person down the line. So, you know, the best advice I can give you is to stay as far away from the bank as you can when you're walking from one spot to the next. And, again, I wouldn't worry too much about falling in another hole. That's a fairly rare occurrence to fall into a hole that deep that far from the bank. Here is an email from Lee, in South Carolina. "I really enjoy the podcast episodes that deal with habitat preservation and restoration. The news out of the Everglades is amazing, and the work that Western Rivers Conservancy is doing is equally amazing. Thanks to you and Orvis for helping with these causes. I'm writing to ask about some habitat in Vermont's own backyard. I lived in Vermont for many years before and after Hurricane Irene slammed through Vermont. I traveled to all four corners on a daily basis, so I saw the devastation firsthand. There's a great four-part video called "After the Flood." It Chronicles the events leading up to and after the storm hit. The part that troubles me, and I saw this firsthand, is that over 100 miles of stream habitat was damaged or destroyed as a direct result of the recovery efforts.
Streams were sanitized and probably will never hold any fish again. Since Orvis is such a leader in habitat protection, are they working to repair any of this damage? Once again, it's literally in their own backyard. I've tried searching through past podcasts and Google searches without finding any answers. Vermont doesn't have trout waters that rival the big waters out west, but what they lack in quality, they more than make up for in quantity. No matter where you live in Vermont, you're less than 15 minutes from a stream that could easily hold decent-sized trout and plenty of them hold trophy sized ones." Well, Lee, I don't know about the trophy-sized ones. I haven't found many myself. But, yeah, I can give you a little background on Irene. First of all, in the streams that were not "stabilized" by the state, and our governor at that time was not one of my favorites just because of what he allowed after Irene went through, a lot of channelization was done.
Channelization is never a good idea. It doesn't help anything. It just increases the velocity downstream. And in areas where the stream was channelized, yes, it looked like the streams would never be restored to quality trout streams again. In rivers that weren't helped, things came back really quickly. Like, within the year, the habitat was fine and, you know, trout survive for hundreds of thousands of years with floods, and there's sometimes a little bit of short-term decline in quality, but they bounce right back. And the streams that weren't channelized or burned or whatever you wanna do in a trout stream, came out just fine. The streams that were degraded, it's interesting because Phil Monahan, the editor of "Orvis News" and I, for the first, I don't know, first 5 to 10 years after Hurricane Irene, we would fish this stretch of river that had been severely channelized. And it's a brook trout stream and, you know, the first year after we did catch some brook trout and actually about three or four years down the road from Irene, I actually caught one of the biggest brook trout I've ever caught in that stream in the channelized stretch.
So the fish will come back. The habitat is not as good as it was prior to the channelization, for sure, but the fish did survive in a lot of these places. Now, a lot of other places I think are gonna take 50 years or more to come back to more of a natural state, and one of the problems is that after this kind of channelization, the amount of money that you would have to spend to restore a stream to a more dynamic ecosystem is really cost prohibited. I mean, even for a short stretch of river, it could run into the millions of dollars. So I haven't seen much work done into these channelized stretches, and honestly, I expect nature's gonna have to take its course. I don't think that the state or any private individuals have the have enough money to correct what was done. It's really easy to channelize a stretch of stream fairly cost-effectively, and it's really expensive to bring it back. And, you know, streams are dynamic ecosystems anyway and, you know, we can only hope that they will eventually recreate some meanders and the streams themselves will install some better habitat over time as trees and things fall into the river and vegetation grows along the bank.
Here's an email from Linus in Oklahoma. "Hi, Tom. I'm a new podcast fan. I have a couple quick questions. First, you have a video on the Orvis Learning Center about how to debarb a hook. My question is about whether it is legal to fish a fly that has been debarbed in this manner in a place where it is illegal to fish barbed hooks, or does this vary? My second question is when fishing dries to rising fish, will loop to loop connections spook the fish. I like the slim profile of the nail knot, but don't like the idea of having to tie one on every time I wanna switch leaders. Also, once I cut the loop on my fly line, I find that it just gets shorter and shorter. Thanks so much for all you've done to teach me about fly fishing. God bless, and happy fly fishing."
So, Linus, I hope that debarbing a hook with a pair of forceps is legal because I've fished in a lot of places where barbed flies are illegal and I just pinch the barbs down. I make sure that I pinch them down fully, but I don't believe that you have to have a manufactured barbless hook. I believe that if you squash down that barb so that there's no barb sticking up on the hook, I don't think anybody is going to arrest you for fishing a barbed hook. Regarding loop-to-loop connection, you know, some people don't like the way it casts, but I don't think it'll spook fish because, in theory, that loop-to-loop connection should be nowhere near the fish you are fishing for. I don't think it makes that much more of a splash than a nail knot. And you shouldn't be putting the end of that fly line anywhere near fish. So I doubt if it'll spook a fish. You may not like the way it casts and occasionally you'll catch a fly on that loop-to-loop connection, but you can catch a fly on a nail knot too occasionally. So I wouldn't worry about it. If you like the loop, go ahead and use it. I don't think you're gonna spook any fish.
Greg: Tom, this is Greg Millard from Brunswick, Maine. I'm calling with several comments, a tip, and a question. First, I wanna thank you for all that you've done for me personally, and of course, for the fishing community. I understand that you were the editor of the "Orvis News," and that newspaper played a very influential part in my life. I think I loved everything I read about fishing and hunting in Northern New England, and decided to retire in Maine when I could retire. Since then, I've chased birds, I've chased trout and smallmouth bass all around Maine. I also wanted to comment that recently, you had Tom Linehan from Linehan Outfitters on your podcast. I was so impressed with Tim that I decided I needed to fish with him. So last September, I spent four days fishing, two days with Tim and two days with some of his other guides on the Kootenay River and just had a spectacular time.
Tim was a great guide, a great guy, and we just had some wonderful conversations about all kinds of things. As far as the tip goes, I would recommend that your listeners, if they're planning on a big trip, that they certainly wanna practice with the exact rod line and leader length that they expect to be fishing. I have blown out some trips because I wasn't prepared with that kind of practice, while on other trips, when I did practice that way I had much better luck and a much happier guide when I could do what was expected. Also important to that is know what length cast you're going to expect to be made. Ask your guide in advance and practice those lengths so that you're in the ballgame. Finally, I have a question about leader twist when throwing, like, big Chubby Chernobyls. I heard on one of your podcasts you said that you need to go with an 0X or 2X leader to eliminate twist. But when I'm fishing for trout, I like to use like a 4X here in Maine. I just get a lot of twist. I've tried putting on a small swivel, and that did not work. I still got twist. So I'm wondering if you could give me any recommendations on that. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks so much, and be well.
Tom: Well, Greg, thank you very much for the comments on the "Orvis News." That was a, a fun and very busy part of my life. And now Phil Monahan has taken this over and it's all digital. We don't print one anymore. And I know some people miss the printed copy. I'm really glad that you fished with Tim Linehan. He's one of the nicest human beings I've ever met. So glad you had a good trip with him. And, yeah, that's a good tip practice with the exact line, rod, and leader length. And also, you know, sometimes the fly can affect the cast, particularly if we're using big air resistant or heavy flies. So I would get a fly that's gonna match what you're gonna be using on that trip, and then cut the hook point off and use that to practice.
So I would just add that to your great suggestion. Regarding leader twist, I don't think you really need 4X if you're fishing a big Chubby Chernobyl. I think that it's gonna turn over better with a heavier tippet, you know, 2X or 3X. And I don't think you're gonna get any advantages to using that really light leader with a big foam dry fly. But it's gonna happen, you know, it's gonna happen. And, you know, sometimes the way flies are tied, can affect the way they make a leader spin. So if you tie your own, you might wanna try perhaps making your foam body a little bit thinner and maybe not putting so much wing on the fly, or if you're buying your flies, maybe try a different version.
And the other thing is to maybe go to a slightly smaller Chubby Chernobyl on that 4X tippet. You know, a smaller one is gonna be less likely to spin. And the one final advice I can give you is don't false cast too much. You don't need to false cast a Chubby Chernobyl more than once or twice. And the more you false cast, the more that leader's gonna twist. So try lessening your false cast, that may help. All right, that's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Ben about beavers. And here we go. Well, my guess today is Ben Goldfarb, and Ben is a fly fisher and also an expert on beavers. Ben wrote a book called "Eager," which is a PEN America Literary Award winner. It's a great book. I've read it, my son Brett's read it, my wife's read it. We all enjoyed it. And I learned a ton about beavers, and realized that I had some real misconceptions about beavers and their relations, especially to trout. So, Ben, welcome to the podcast.
Ben: Well, Tom, thank you so much for having me. And I just wanted to say it's a pleasure to talk to you. I've learned so much from your YouTube videos. You've helped me catch a lot of fish over the years, and I really appreciate you having me on.
Tom: Well, you've helped me understand beavers and I'm hoping to learn...
Ben: Fantastic.
Tom: ...more today on the podcast. And I'm sure other people will. You know, I get a lot of questions about how to fish a beaver pond and the beavers spook trout, especially bank beavers in a river when they move in and I've had varying experiences with that. So you're gonna educate us on exactly what they do.
Ben: I'll do my best.
Tom: So, first of all, let's talk about beavers in general, and the ecology of beaver dams and their work and how they actually benefit trout streams. Because my misconception before I read your book was that beavers move in, they slow the water down, they expose more of it to the sun, it warms the water. So I always thought that, you know, on the downstream reaches of a beaver pond, that it's probably detrimental. But after reading your book, I realized that that was a misconception.
Ben: Well, I think that's what a lot of anglers and fish biologists think. And certainly, I was a fly fisherman before I was a beaver author, and that was my impression too. But, you know, when you read the peer-reviewed literature and really, you know, spend a lot of time around these beaver complexes, it's just clear how incredibly beneficial they are to, you know, to salamanders and really, all life. I mean, first of all, they're just creating these fabulous nurseries for juvenile fish, right? They're creating these wonderful complex, you know, multi-threaded, brushy, slow water refugia essentially. And there are just so many papers out there about beavers sort of enhancing fish production.
You know, you certainly hear sort of the notion that, you know, they're creating obstacles to fish movement, right? You know, we're trying to take dams out of rivers right now, not put more dams into rivers. But of course, beaver ponds are nothing like human-built concrete dams. There have been lots and lots of studies basically showing that cutthroat trout, for example, have no problem whatsoever moving past beaver dams. You know, they're actually wriggling through the woody structures. You know, fish are often moving during periods of high flow when there's water going up the top of beaver dams or around them. You know, you see a million YouTube videos of fish passing beaver dams, no problem. And then, you know, that notion too, that they warm up water, that's a really common misconception.
That's a reason that beavers are being killed in places like Wisconsin and Minnesota and Michigan, to "enhance brook trout" because we know that, right, these are fish that need cold water. But, you know, what beavers do that's so important, is they're really sort of your agents of surface and groundwater exchange, right? So when they build a dam and they push water out onto the flood plain, you know, that water is sinking into the ground, it's like a big sponge. It's cooling off underground and then it's, you know, flowing downstream underground, and then it's percolating back up through the substrate and, you know, and kind of mingling with the surface water. And that hyper reef exchange, we've all fished spring creeks, we know how great those environments are.
So that ability to kind of facilitate groundwater and surface water exchange that beavers have actually makes them agents of cooling off streams, not warming up streams. There have been some great studies basically showing that beavers are keeping streams nice and cold late into the summer for some on it. So there are a lot of, you know, I think that fish people have a lot of misconceptions about beavers. You're certainly not the only one, and, you know, that's a lot of what I try to do in the book, is clear up some of the myths.
Tom: Yeah. That was the biggest head slapper. And, you know, I've often known and believed that a stream with lots of bends stays cooler because some of the water goes underground and anytime water goes underground, it cools it off. And I never thought about the effect of, you know, the same effect happening with a beaver pond in that exchange with the groundwater. So that was really, really cool.
Ben: Yeah. And I think that's a lot of what I try to do in this book and a lot of what the beaver movement is trying to do, is that there's just so many misconceptions about these animals. You know, we've all kind of seen their work and formed opinions about them. But when you really, like, evaluate the peer-reviewed evidence, you know, these animals are just doing so much incredible good for ecosystems. And you know, again, there's just an amazing wealth of studies out there about the kind of a beaver-trout connection. And I mean, anecdotally, I can't even tell you how many fishermen have come up to me after, you know, after one of my book talks and said, you know, "Hey, I just wanna let you know, I caught the biggest brook trout of my life in a beaver pond." You know, and I've had some fun days fishing beaver ponds too.
Tom: You know, one of the things that I found fascinating was some of the studies that you looked at on the west coast, in the Pacific Northwest and the effective beaver dams on juvenile, I think it was coho salmon and steelhead. You wanna talk a little bit about that and then how the beaver equivalence came about? Because that's another fascinating thing.
Ben: Sure. Yeah. And again, you know, there's just a lot of really wonderful literature about beavers, you know, enhancing juvenile salmon. And of course that makes sense. That's something that we've all, you know, we've all anecdotally observed in streams, right, is that like the baby fish, you know, they don't wanna live in the main stem, the fast current, you know, that's just gonna blow them downstream. They want to live in those kind of complex braided channels, those backwaters, those eddies, you know with lots of, sort of, willow overhang to protect them from kingfishers. And that's exactly the kind of complex habitat that beavers are creating. And for coho salmon whose juveniles spend more time in freshwater than other imaginous fish, other salmons, that's especially an important effect.
And, you know, there have been studies basically showing that, you know, in some watersheds in Western Washington, you have the extirpation of beavers, the fur industry basically led to a 97% reduction in juvenile coho salmon rearing grounds. Right? So the loss of beavers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was kind of this huge fish apocalypse in some ways. They really eliminated a lot of habitat. You know, now what a lot of scientists and land management agencies are doing, as you alluded to, Tom, is building these kind of artificial beaver dams, beaver dam analogs. And that's been done a lot in Oregon and Washington. You know, the idea there is basically, you know, when we lost beavers, we lost the ability of streams to support beavers, right?
So if you think about kind of a beaver-rich stream, all of those beaver dams are acting like speed bumps. They're slowing the water down and they're pushing that onto the flood plain. And when you lose all of those beaver dams, you lose those speed bumps, and there's nothing checking the velocity of water and you get really dramatic erosion and incision, right? We've all seen, you know, these streams that just are, you know, 10 feet down cut and have totally lost their connection with the flood plain. That's a really hard environment for a beaver to live, right? They can't, you know, can't really build a dam in one of those constricted incised fire hose-like channel. So in a few places, you know, basically what scientists have done is just pounded some posts into the streambed. You know, you give the beavers a little bit of structure to kind of work off of, and you can induce them to return to places they might not colonize otherwise or recolonize.
And, again, there's just a wonderful study in this one stream in Oregon, Bridge Creek, which is part of the Columbia basin basically finding that, you know, these beaver dam analogs, these kind of beaver mimicry structures encouraged so many beavers and so much ponding and the creation of so many side channels and meanders and eddies. They actually increased juvenile steelhead production by about 50%. So that's taking, you know, a federally threatened fish and just dramatically enhancing sort of the production of offspring. So just a pretty incredible case study of, you know, how humans and beavers can work together to enhance salamander populations.
Tom: Yeah. We think about the threats to steelhead and coho in particular as being large dams and water extraction and climate change and all these other threats. And the removal of beavers was the start of all of this, and bringing them back is only gonna help things.
Ben: Yeah. You know, I think we're not really accustomed to thinking about the fur trade as being sort of this, you know, seminal ecological disaster. It's really up there with, you know, the deforestation of New England or gold mining in the Sierra Nevadas or, you know, the busting of the Midwestern Prairie is sort of, you know, one of the first real ecological disasters that people of European descent kind of inflicted on North America.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. How about bank beavers? I'm particularly interested in bank beavers because I've had numerous bank beaver colonies. I have a trout stream in my backyard and I've's really interesting. The river gets very low during the summer, and they'll build a dam. And then the dam will, of course, burst in the spring, poor guys, they did all this work, but the thing is that all that wood that they put in the water then forms a gravel bar, it traps silt, and they say, "Oh, to hell with it." And then they go and build a lodge in the bank instead of trying to dam the river again. What's the ecology of bank beavers, and how do they affect trout streams? Because that's what we see a lot, you know? We see them not so much building dams on bigger rivers, but we see bank beavers. How do they affect the ecology?
Ben: Yeah, that's a great question. And definitely in subtler ways, but still really dramatic ways. So the first question is why do beavers even build dams? And the reason is they're trying to create their own shelter, essentially, right? A beaver on land is kind of this, you know, fat, slow, smelly meat package that's gonna get eaten by a, you know, a bear or a wolf or a cougar or coyote or what have you. So, you know, by building that dam and creating, you know, a nice deep pool, they're basically, you know, expanding the extent of their own shelter from predators. Right? But, you know, in a big river or lake, there's already plenty of water depth, so they're already safe.
And I've seen beavers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you know, and they're not gonna dam that. So we sort of like have this conception of beavers as being these fanatical builders, right? Busy as a beaver. But they're actually, like, they're pretty lazy. Or more than lazy, they're efficient, right? They're only building in places where they really need to build. And elsewhere, as you say, you know, they're just tunneling into the banks and basically living in bank lodges or bank burrows. But those bank lodges and burrows are also really good fish habitat. You know, again, there have been some great studies in California basically showing that the submerged entrances to those lodges are really good rearing grounds for juvenile fish. You know, just kind of like a nice calm sheltered tunnel, essentially, out of the main flow of the current. So that's one thing is that, you know, even those bank lodges and burrows are good fish habitat. But also as you alluded to, you know, I mean, beavers are kind of messy eaters and, you know, when they cut willow or aspen or cottonwood, especially willow, you know, they're often dropping sticks and those sticks are washing downstream.
And then, as you said, you know, washing up on a point bar and sprouting and, you know, an enormous amount of the wood in many streams has actually been kind of cut and mobilized by beavers, you know, by dams that blow out or by their own kind of messy eating habitats. And, you know, of course, we know how important riparian vegetation and shade is for fish. And, you know, a lot of that riparian vegetation, those willows especially, are plants that were, you know, mobilized by beavers into the watersheds.
Tom: Yeah, my backyard stream has some degraded banks and it runs through a dairy farming valley. So a lot of it has been channelized and it kind of opens up on my property. And I planted willows when I first moved in. I planted a lot of willows. And then the beavers have come in and cut them down and I used to get mad at them. In fact, I actually called the local warden and asked him if I could shoot the beaver to get it off my property. And he said, "Yeah, go ahead, as long as you don't dynamite it." But then I realized that when the beavers chew on the willows, the willows sprout right back up and they actually expand, and the root systems stay there, which is what I wanted anyways, to stabilize the bank. So now I'm happily coexisting with the beavers and they're eating all my willows every year and then the willows come back and expand. So, yeah, it's interesting.
Ben: Yeah. And that compassing effect, that's an evolutionary response to beaver cutting. That's just kind of an amazing indication of how, you know, all of our plants and animals have kind of evolved in concert with beavers, for, you know, something like 8 million years. And that evolutionary connection, you know, between beavers and the plants and animals they support is just so wonderful. And that's, like, my favorite bumper sticker is beavers taught salmon to jump.
Tom: That's a good one,
Ben: Gets at the connection nicely.
Tom: Another question I have about bank beavers, and there's no scientific studies about this, but maybe you've seen some observations. When beavers build a lodge on the bank in a trout pool, all of a sudden, there is a large mammal swimming underwater that looks kind of like an otter. And I sense that the trout will move out of that area because of the activity of the beavers. You know, it's a large mammal, and they get spooked and they move out. I've heard the opposite from other people that say, "Oh, no, I've caught fish right next to the beaver lodges or bank beaver lodges." So do you have any anecdotal or otherwise information on what it does to an adult trout when a beaver moves in?
Ben: Yeah. It's a good question. We need to put a GoPro on a beaver or something and see what that looks like. I mean, certainly, I've definitely caught trout adjacent to beaver lodges. And I think my assumption would be... you know, I mean, look, beavers are generally nocturnal, you know, they're not coming out until dusk. And I'd imagine that I could definitely see, you know, how a 50-pound rodent would spook a trout. But, you know, beavers are spending most of the day in their lodges tucked away. And I'd imagine that fish are, you know, are using that area while the beaver's in the lodge.
And I mean, I mean, certainly, that little pocket water, the little pool, kind of, that forms behind a beaver lodge, that's a fun place to fish. Because often the lodge is sort of extending out into the channel a little bit. You know, they're kind of like this submerged tunnel entrance that's built up with wood and it's often a food cash, you know, kind of the pile of sticks that they basically cut as kind of their pantry. And, you know, all of that woody structure that they're pushing out into the channel is often forming a great little pool or eddy behind it. And I've definitely found that's a productive place to fish.
Tom: Okay. I've certainly caught large amount of bass around beaver lodges. They do love to hang around beaver lodges, but they may not be as sensitive to underwater predators as trout. But it's interesting. I've got a new bank beaver lodge on a big pool on my property, so I'll have to observe how the trout respond to it this year once I start seeing them.
Ben: Yeah. It's a great, you know, it's funny, the bass thing just makes me think, a few... I used to live in North Hampton, Massachusetts, and there's a lake there called Lake Fitzgerald, which is, you know, a popular bass fishing spot. And there's a really big bank lodge on the lake that's been there according to can look at aerial photos from the '50s and see that lodge. So this is a, you know, kind of like many generations of beavers have been living around humans. And, you know, actually, you can go there in the evening and guys will be standing on top of this enormous lodge, bass fishing off the lodge, and the beavers are just out maintaining the lodge, you know, 5 feet away because they're so habituated to anglers. It's really incredible.
Tom: Yeah. The ones that I see are more likely to slap the water and spook all the trout with their tails, which I'm sure a lot...
Ben: Yeah, I can imagine... I'm sure a tail slap is, I'm sure trout don't enjoy that.
Tom: No, no. And I don't either when I don't know they're there. And I'm sure that a lot of us have had that experience, you know, just before dark fishing for trout and all of a sudden wham behind you and you jump about 6 feet in the air.
Ben: Yeah. They've probably caused a few angler heart attacks over the years.
Tom: They probably have. So can we talk a little bit about fishing beaver ponds? Because, you know, it's a different kind of fishing. You're working along a small stream and you're doing your thing, and all of a sudden you come up to a beaver pond and you think, well, what do I do next? Where are the trout gonna be? How do I fish a beaver pond? And you probably have a lot of experience in that. So let's talk about how to fish them.
Ben: Yeah. And this is the part of the podcast where I issue a disclaimer and say that I'm one of those anglers whose passion greatly exceeds my skill. So take everything I say with a grain of salt and...
Tom: Yeah, but you're observant and you've studied these things, and that's the important part.
Ben: Sure. Yeah. And, Tom, I'm excited to hear how you fish them too. I'd say, right, certainly, I mean, they're incredibly productive habitats, but they're tough places to fish. Right? I mean, there's so much structure... You know, there's obviously lots of, I mean, there's, of course, the dam and the lodge itself, you know, there's often a lot of brush. You know, you're obviously not making any hero casts back there.
Tom: No.
Ben: You know, I tend to, I mean, I really like fishing beaver complexes with my tenkara, which is really fun. You know, it's often a different set of bugs too, right? I mean, often the substrate is a little bit, you know, muckier. You don't really see a lot of gravel substrate, right? So a lot of the bugs that, you know, not, like, you don't often see, and I don't often see, you know, great caddis hatches, for example, in beaver ponds. You know, yeah, I've had a lot of luck with terrestrials because you've got all of that overhanging veg oftentimes, right? So it feels like a great place for an ant or a beetle, and streamers too. I mean, again, there's so much...if you can just flip a little streamer, you know, under some of that veg and strip it out, that's been pretty productive for me. So that's a different type of fishing, but to me, like, the greatest thrill of angling is pulling an improbably large fish out of an improbably small stream. And that's exactly what beavers create, because they're just creating such productive environments, you know. And you just, yeah, I mean, it's always a thrill to, you know, catch a big brooky in a little, you know, beaver pond that's, like, the size of a bathtub. And yeah, it's fun fishing, but it's definitely, you know, I mean, it's so much more active in some ways too. You know, you're climbing over stuff and, you know, the mucky substrate is like you're sinking up to your shin sometimes. So it's a kind of a more physical style of fishing in some ways, and, you know, you just gotta be prepared to use your body and lose some flies, I guess.
Tom: And poke holes in your waders occasionally?
Ben: Yeah. That's probably gonna happen too. It's tough on your gear.
Tom: Now, in a typical beaver pond, you have an inlet which, you know, there's some running water, so there's probably some mayflies and caddisflies coming in. And then you have kind of a deeper pocket down towards the dam. What areas do you see the most trout, the larger trout, in a beaver pond? Is it inlet? Outlet? Somewhere in-between?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, I feel like it's the big impoundment right behind the dam, you know? I mean, you get a lot of head behind that dam, you know, it's just a nice deep pool of water. You know, often I feel like that outflow that you mentioned below the dam on kind of the downstream side, you know, that's often, you know, skinnier water. Yeah. You know, I don't tend to have a lot of success there, but...
Tom: No, I don't either.
Ben: Yeah. But what I like to do sometimes is just stand in that skinnier stuff right below the dam, and then pop a cast, you know, into the pool above the dam. You know, and the dam is almost, you know, it's essentially acting like a blind. It's screening you from the fish, and the water is, you know, because of the head of the dam, you know, the water's almost at, you know, chest level above you. So I really like just standing right below the dam and just toss in a cast right above it. That seems to be pretty effective.
Tom: And then there's kind of common wisdom, and I don't know if it's wisdom or not, that usually newer beaver ponds are better than ones that have been around for a while because they haven't shallowed and silted in. Do you find that to be the case?
Ben: Yeah. I think there's definitely truth to that. I mean that's the interesting thing about a beaver complex, is that it's inherently this kind of cyclic environment, right?
Tom: Yeah.
Ben: Beavers show up, they build their dam, they create that nice deep pool that's, you know, that's incredible fish habitat, you know, and then over time as you say, the sediment kind of collects and the pool fills in a little bit and it becomes maybe better amphibian habitat than fish habitat. And eventually, you know, it turns into kind of a lush wet meadow that's really good to ungulate forage, you know, you see so many moose and deer back there of course. So, you know, it's right. At every stage, it's sort of supporting a different set of organisms in some ways. And I think you're right, that that new pond stage is probably the most conducive to trout.
Tom: Okay. Okay. Of course you need, if you're gonna grow... the trout in a tiny stream are generally gonna be tiny and then the beavers build a dam, and you need time for the trout to grow. So I would think like two or three years into a beaver dam would be the prime time for a big trout.
Ben: Yeah, I think you're probably, you know, spot on with that observation. Again, these are just such, you know, nutrient-dense environments. I mean, they're just collecting so much organic matter that, you know, they're really, you know, incredibly productive growing environments. And, you know, I'm always astounded by the sort of, like, the ratio of fish size to CFS in a lot of these beaver complexes.
Tom: Yeah. I know a couple of beaver ponds in Montana that have just monster brown trout in them, just huge brown trout.
Ben: Yeah. That's interesting. It's funny there's one, like, the beaver-brown trout connection is interesting. There's was a great study by Joe Wheaton who's kind of a wonderful beaverologist at Utah State. And what he basically found is he put some PIT tags in cutthroat and brown trout, you know, in a native cutthroat stream. And he basically found that the cutthroat were passing the beaver dams much more readily and easily than the brown trout. You know, which I think makes sense, right? I mean, obviously cutthroat are sort of coevolved with beavers in the Rocky Mountains. But brown trout, I mean, there are plenty of beavers in, or at least historically there were plenty of beavers in Europe, too. So you'd think that brown trout would've encountered beavers in their evolutionary history as well, but it does seem like, at least based on that study, maybe these beaver dams are kind of acting like a filter for native fish, at least in the Rocky Mountains. You know, they're permitting the natives to get upstream and, you know, kind of keeping out the non-natives, which is an interesting idea.
Tom: Yeah. Better to do that than to poison these streams to reclaim them. I'm all for the beavers.
Ben: Yeah, me too. Me too.
Tom: What else can we discuss regarding beavers and trout? I know you have a lot. What else do you think could be of interest to people?
Ben: Well, I don't know. I'd love to hear how you fish beaver ponds. Man, I could stand to learn something about these environments myself. And, you know, again, like I said, I've just learned so much from watching your YouTube channel over the years and would love to hear how you approach a beaver complex.
Tom: Yeah. You know, I honestly don't fish a lot of them. The times that I have, I've found that, like you said, a small streamer, often work just to prospect and see where they are. And then, you know, you'll often see midge hatches, so you wanna be prepared with some smaller flies because that silt habitat definitely encourages production of midges in the water. So the fish are probably eating a lot of midges. And then the other thing is that there's often, you know, unlike the small rushing stream that they might be a part of, there's often damselflies that will colonize the beaver pond. And I find that throwing a small pheasant tail nymph which, you know, is close enough to a damsel for government work, throwing a small pheasant tail nymph out there and stripping it back has worked for me. But, you know, other than that, I don't have any real special intelligence on beaver pond fishing.
Ben: Okay. Yeah, I think that the damselfly and dragonfly larva, that's a good point. Definitely see a lot of those guys splitting around. So maybe I'll try that.
Tom: Yeah. It's interesting, I was doing a series of how-to videos a couple of years ago, and we were in Maine and I wanted to do something on fishing beaver ponds because I get those questions a lot. So we were up at Weatherby's in Maine and I said to Jeff, the owner, I said, "Jeff, do you got any beaver ponds around? I'd like to do, you know, something about fishing beaver ponds." And he said, "Yeah, we got one." So we did this whole talk about fishing beaver ponds, and he was great. And then we said, "Okay, we gotta catch some fish for the video, otherwise we don't have much of a video. We gotta catch some fish out of the beaver ponds." And it was a big, beautiful beaver pond. And we fished and fished and fished and never got a hit. And Jeff said...
Ben: Oh, man.
Tom: But Jeff said, "You know, there was an otter here a couple weeks ago." I said, "Oh, my God." And I've since learned that otters can literally clean out a beaver pond. They're so efficient. There were no brook drought left in that pond.
Ben: Yeah. Not surprised to hear that. Well, you know, my wife and I live in the Arkansas Valley in Central Colorado, and we, you know, we certainly fish the Ark lot of course. But there are also some just incredible very fishy beaver complexes on Cottonwood Creek right above our house. So if, you know, Tom, if your travels ever take you out this way and you wanna film a beaver pond fishing episode, man, just let me know. I'll take you to some good spots.
Tom: I'd like to do that, but you really shouldn't mention the names of creeks in this podcast because you're gonna have people in your backyard.
Ben: Well, I think, you know, anybody coming to the Arkansas Valley is they're probably fishing the Ark. They're not venturing up to the beaver ponds where us weirdoes go.
Tom: Yeah. Which, the Arkansas is a wonderful river. One of my favorites in Colorado, so I envy you.
Ben: Yeah. It's pretty cool. Returning to your question about anything else we should touch upon in beavers and trout, to me, I guess I would just encourage everybody listening to really reevaluate their priors about what streams should look like. I think that you just so often hear from anglers, from landowners, from land management agencies, when beavers move into an area or increase their population in an area, I think that people perceive it as fundamentally unnatural, right? "Well, wait a second, these animals were never here before and now they're freaking everywhere. And what's that doing to the brook trout? And, you know, we better kill some and dynamite some dams because, you know, this is just an unnatural change to a, you know, an ecosystem that never had beavers before."
I just think it's important to remember that today there are something like 10 million or 15 million beavers in North America, right? So they're not an endangered species. There are lots of them. But, you know, prior to European arrival, there were something like 400 million. You know, we don't really know how many, but this was just once an unbelievably ubiquitous animal that would have, you know, transformed, I mean, every single kind of higher-order headwater stream, you know, on the continent. Well, if not every one, at least very many of them. So I would just encourage listeners and, you know, especially anglers to just think about what these systems looked like historically, and the ways in which kind of the recovery of beavers is really not a new transformation, but a return to a kind of our historical ecology in some ways.
So many times you're fishing, I'm just thinking about like Slough Creek and Yellowstone, for example, these beautiful, broad meadows, you know, just the classic meandering iconic trout stream. And you sort of think, "Well, I mean, what created that beautiful, flat broad flood point?" I mean, that was, you know, thousands of years of sediment deposited behind beaver dams. You know, beavers are really responsible for building these systems in a lot of ways. And then we wiped them out and kind of transformed our streams and now beavers are recovering and transforming them back, you know? So I just encourage people to think about, you know, what a natural, healthy, normal stream should look like and kind of broaden our, you know, our temporal horizons a little bit. You know, think a little bit deeper into the past about what our trout streams might have looked like.
Tom: Oh, you know, that reminds me of another interesting thing in your book. When you mentioned Yellowstone, the dramatic increase in the elk and the bison populations, and their browsing of the willows has actually, in modern times, decreased the beaver abundance, right? Because there just aren't enough, and there's a lot of small, tiny streams in Yellowstone that don't have beaver ponds anymore because of the overgrazing of the beaver's food.
Ben: Oh, man, it's incredible to look at pictures of Yellowstone from the early 1900s prior to the extirpation of wolves and the explosion of the elk population. And you see these areas that are, you know, meadows or pastures today are just underwater. You know, they're just these incredible beaver complexes, you know, especially in the northern range, you know, kind of the Lamar Valley area. You know, I mean, so many of these little drainages were just, you know, these incredible pond complexes. And it's funny, I mean, now wolves get so much credit for kind of changing the park's ecology, by reducing ungulate browse and...I mean, everybody's heard kind of the classic story of the wolves returning to Yellowstone and saving the ecosystem. And I think in some ways the most important thing that wolves did was actually make it possible for beavers to recover. By pulling back some of that browse pressure, you know, they've allowed beavers to recolonize some of these northern drainages, especially where they were, you know, historically present and then absent. So, you know, in some ways I think, you know, beavers are the real hero of the Yellowstone story, at least as much as wolves are, if not more.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. I found that fascinating and Yellowstone could use some more beavers and more wolves. I shouldn't say that's. I'll get letters about that.
Ben: Yeah. Right. I'm sure the portion of your listenership who's both trout fishermen and elk hunters might not be thrilled. But it's really true that, you know, beavers and wolves are kind of these two keystone species that really work together in this almost collaborative way, where wolves reduce the ungulate browse pressure, and that allows beavers to do their thing, you know? And I think the one thing we haven't talked about a ton yet is, you know, it's just, I mean, the fact that the American west especially is just drying up, obviously, as the climate warms and we lose our snowpack and enter this prolonged period of drought. And we just need beavers on the landscape to create permanent sources of water, essentially.
I mean, there's just, you know, some wonderful case studies. There's a great rancher named Jay Wilde in Idaho who, you know, he had a creek that fed his homestead and the creek was this seasonal stream that, you know, dried up in the summer. And he had this memory of it being perennial in his childhood. And he sort of thought, you know, "What made this a perennial stream and why isn't it like that anymore?" And he realized, you know, "Oh, the difference is beavers. The stream used to have beavers and now it doesn't." So he reintroduced beavers, which just went gangbusters. You know, built a couple hundred dams in there and returned this seasonal stream to a perennial flow. And all of a sudden, you know, his granddaughters are catching 14-inch cutthroat trout in a stream that never supported anything bigger than 8 inches. So we need these animals back to create permanent water on a landscape that is increasingly dry, for fish and human users, both.
Tom: And as I remember, he actually increases agriculture output because he had more water on his land because of the beavers.
Ben: Yeah. That's a story that you certainly see all over the West. There's another sort of great story, a similar story that I tell in the book is in Northeast Nevada, you know, in Elko County where ranchers and the bureau of land management kind of worked together to help beavers recover and, you know, and you see... I mean that work was really led by fish biologists, you know, by biologists concerned about Lahontan cutthroat trout, and by returning beavers to these drainages, they created this great fish habitat, and as you alluded to, also increased forage production for these ranchers dramatically, because beavers, you know, as we talked about, are basically irrigators, right? They're spreading water out, they're hydrating soils, they're raising the water table, they're recharging aquifers. And you can see these incredible lush meadows wherever these animals come back. So, you know, this longstanding opposition between, you know, ranchers, beavers, anglers, fish biologists, you know, I think that some of those historic walls are breaking down a little bit.
Tom: Yeah. Well, Ben, I wanna thank you so much for educating us. This has been a fascinating podcast, and I'm sure that a lot of people learned some really new things and dispelled some misconceptions that they have about beavers in the landscape. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Ben: Well, Tom, thank you so much. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all that you do to educate the angling public. And I love your title, chief enthusiast, and I might steal that and call myself chief or one of the chief beaver enthusiasts. That's a good title that more people should have. So, I appreciate it.
Tom: Yeah. You could steal it because my wife doesn't like that title. She thinks it's dumb, so maybe I'll change it. But, you know...
Ben: Oh, no, I love it.
Tom: Anyway, we have been talking to Ben Goldfarb. And Ben is the author of a great book that I highly recommend, "Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter." And who's the publisher of your book here?
Ben: It's Chelsea Green in your home state of Vermont.
Tom: Oh, yeah. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont. Cool.
Ben: That's right. Yeah.
Tom: All right, Ben. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And maybe we can fish together someday on some beaver pond.
Ben: I hope so, Tom, thanks so much.
Tom: All right. Thank you.
Ben: Take care.
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